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"In the city of my birth, I had a dream..."
Grendel by John Gardner 
1st-Aug-2006 11:30 pm
Is this novel famous? My Salon.com contemporary author guide seems to think so--even says it gets read a lot in high school--but I'd never even heard of it before. Nor did I know exactly what I was in for until I started reading. Big mistake.

Gardner, John. Grendel. 1971. New York: Vintage, 1989.
Summary: With illustrations by Emil Antonucci. Grendel of the Anglo-Saxon "Beowulf" tells his side of the story, as he watches Hrothgar build a mighty consortium, proceeds to smash it, and then ultimately meets his doom when a young but powerful king arrives.
Comments: Yes, indeedy, this is what I get sometimes when I don't know what I'm in for. And here I thought I'd get something like Wicked. You know...something ENTERTAINING. Definitely not. Like Maguire, Gardner definitely has messages to impart that he thinks would be best-conveyed by borrowing a classic storyline--but Grendel might as well have been subtitled "John Gardner on Everything." Through a series of characters who are little better than philosophical talking heads (mead must be brain food), he argues that the self, government, religion, etc. must define itself in opposition to something else...even if what is "opposite" isn't in any absolute sense. Thus, you see Grendel discovering his sense of self through the Danes' mythological fear of monsters by becoming their very own personal monster. And more. Lots more. >_< For example, constructive efforts are wholly futile over the long term; even the destroyers themselves are eventually destroyed. So if you're looking for a good story, go elsewhere. Or read the original poem. The novel, ironically, is at its best when the characters shut up; the similarities between Beowulf and the dragon constitute some of the most unforgettable images between the covers, period.
Notes: trade paperback, 4th printing
Rating: 5.5/10 - Just be sure you know what you're in for, or...WHOA.
2nd-Aug-2006 03:34 am (UTC)
It was required reading for my 12th grade AP class.... I didn't like it all that much.
2nd-Aug-2006 03:38 am (UTC)
Lemme guess: You read it along with the original Beowulf? :P

(We did British lit senior year, so the American John Gardner was not in the cards. But of course Beowulf was. ^^; )
2nd-Aug-2006 03:46 am (UTC)
I think so. Although...I absolutely hated my English class that year, so most of it is blocked from memory. But I wrote my final paper on Beowulf and Gilgamesh and I'm quite certain Gilgamesh didn't make it into the class at any point.
2nd-Aug-2006 03:50 am (UTC)
I don't remember my senior English class all that well, either. >_< I was delinquent more than a third the entire school year, but I know for a fact that the only thing that I deliberately chose not to finish that year was the (very non-British, but we were required to do lit in translation, as well) Crime and Punishment.
2nd-Aug-2006 06:44 am (UTC)
Heh, I saw this title last night when I was browsing the top 20 list on Amazon. Glad to know it's bad.
2nd-Aug-2006 12:28 pm (UTC)
It's not so much BAD per se as that it didn't entertain me. And I suspect that you won't like it all that much, either. ^^;
2nd-Aug-2006 02:44 pm (UTC)
I read that in sophomore year English, though we didn't read Beowulf until senior year. i remember not minding it.
2nd-Aug-2006 11:39 pm (UTC)
I remember finding this one in my school library soon after reading Beowulf. I thought it'd be intersting, but I just never got past the first few pages.
4th-Aug-2006 03:05 am (UTC)
I was yet another person who had to read this book, along with the original Beowulf, in high school English. I hated the teacher, the class, and also the book. Although that last probably had to do with the first two. LOL
1st-Sep-2006 05:26 am (UTC)
Review archived.
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